How to Easily Make Zoom Meetings Deaf-Inclusive

Videoconference meetings are more common than in-person meetings today. And Zoom, from Zoom Video Communications, Inc. is the go-to solution with a 55% share of the videoconferencing software market.1 But using video relay service (VRS) to make Zoom for Deaf participants usable has lagged behind Zoom’s popularity—until now.

The History of Zoom for Deaf Participants

Zoom founder Eric Yuan started Zoom in 2011. Zoom, the application, was publicly available in January 2013.2

In the fall of 2020, Zoom pioneered a solution to let Deaf individuals who use American Sign Language (ASL) more conveniently take part in Zoom meetings with non-ASL-fluent participants. The original solution improved Zoom’s usability for Deaf, heard-of-hearing, and hearing users. It:

  • Let an attendee pin more than one person’s image to the screen.
    • If a host had pre-arranged for an interpreter(s) to join the meeting, a participant could pin the image of both the presenter and an interpreter(s) side-by-side.
  • Let attendees rearrange other attendees’ images on the screen.
    • This let a Deaf attendee put the interpreter’s image in the best location for their needs.


Additionally, autogenerated Zoom captions for Deaf and hearing participants were available to any Zoom user in fall 2021. Previously captions had been limited to paid accounts and required the host to add on and pay for a third-party artificial intelligence (AI)-powered transcription service.

More Recent Zoom Advances for Deaf Inclusion 

Since its first features to support Deaf inclusion, Zoom has added even more Deaf-inclusive options.  

Today, Zoom includes a Sign Language Interpretation view for paid accounts using the desktop client. When the view is enabled, the host of the meeting can select 1 to 20 attendees as interpreters. Interpreters appear in dedicated video channels. Channels are pinned and spotlighted. Users can also see the sign language the Interpreter is using onscreen, such as American Sign Language (ASL), British Sign Language (BSL), and so on. 

The Sign Language Interpretation view doesn’t support VRS. The meeting organizer has to arrange for and invite their own interpreters. There are other limitations too.  

Video Relay with Zoom Videoconferencing 

Customers of companies that provide Federal Communications Commission (FCC)-funded VRS use a workaround to take part on Zoom calls using VRS. 

They use their VRS videophone or app to bring an interpreter from their VRS provider into the audio part of the Zoom meeting. To do this, they dial the meeting’s dial-in number on their VRS videophone or app instead of using the computer audio option for the Zoom meeting. 

This is “easy” because the Deaf individual uses their existing VRS videophone or app instead of finding an interpreter to invite. But it’s not fully user- or Deaf-friendly.  

Not Really a Solution at All 

This “solution” isn’t really a solution at all. Deaf participants have to look at both the screen with the interpreter and the separate screen with the Zoom meeting. Talk about Zoom fatigue! 

The interpreter can only hear the audio. They can’t see the video side of the conversation. So, they can’t convey the visual context and emotion that’s essential to sign language.  

It’s a cumbersome process at best. And it leaves both the interpreter and Deaf participant without the full context of the meeting. It doesn’t address the communication needs between Deaf and hearing participants. 

Simple, Truly Useful Solutions for Using Zoom with a Relay Service 

Sorenson introduced two simple solutions for using Zoom with VRS — a web app and Zoom app. Both remove the need for a cumbersome workaround for Deaf and hearing attendees to communicate in Zoom meetings. 

“I love this feature. It is so user-friendly and lets us quickly schedule Zoom meetings without having to schedule interpreters. Plus, we have them right in the screen rather than on a separate monitor.”

Sorenson connects the Deaf, hard-of-hearing, and hearing communities through language solutions. Sorenson is also the largest provider of video relay service (VRS) in the U.S. and provides a full line of interpreting solutions, including video remote interpreting (VRI), on-demand interpreting, and on-site interpreting.  

Sorenson is the first to deliver VRS-based solutions that make it easy for anyone who has a Sorenson Video Relay account and uses a paid Zoom account – whether as the host or a participant –  to include one or more on-demand ASL interpreters in any Zoom meeting. 

These solutions give participants with a Sorenson Video Relay account virtually instant access to an on-demand interpreter. They see the interpreter right in the Zoom meeting with everyone else. There’s no need to use different devices for a single meeting. 

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Sorenson for Zoom Offers Videoconferencing with True Deaf Inclusion

Sorenson for Zoom integrates Sorenson VRS interpretation services with Zoom. This gives Deaf and hearing individuals a more convenient and inclusive Zoom experience.

Deaf participants can see the interpreter(s), a shared screen, and other participants on one device in one window – the same window everyone uses.

For any meeting, two interpreters join by default to ensure the best possible experience for attendees. With two interpreters, they can switch back and forth and ensure conversations are fully interpreted, which is ideal for longer meetings and meetings with many participants. If only one interpreter is needed, the second drops off.

The interpreters:

  • Call in to the meeting dial-in to support the VRS connection and join the meeting video so they can fully participate in the meeting
  • Can see everyone on the call to easily identify speakers and convey unspoken context
  • Can access all Zoom features, including seeing a shared screen and speakers’ names
  • Help the meeting leader ensure all participants have a stake in the meeting
  • Are expert Sorenson American Sign Language (ALS) interpreters (Sorenson interpreters support English to ASL and Spanish to ASL interpretation and are available 24/7/365)

Hearing participants also see the interpreter, so they can allow time for the interpreter to sign and see when a Deaf participant has something to add.

Every attendee enjoys a more inclusive meeting experience.

Note that Sorenson for Zoom doesn’t work with Zoom’s Sign Language Interpreter view at this time.

When to Choose the Zoom App vs Web App

Both the web app and Zoom app are ideal for Deaf business owners, educators, students, individuals, and others who use Zoom meetings on a paid account and have a Sorenson VRS account.

Web App

The Sorenson for Zoom web app is available as a desktop app and a web-based app. You can use this app if you:

  • You are a Zoom meeting host or an attendee
  • The meeting host has a paid Zoom license
  • Are eligible and registered for Sorenson VRS account


Zoom App

The Zoom App is available as a fully integrated app from Zoom marketplace. You can use this app if you:

  • Are the Zoom meeting host
  • Have a paid Zoom license
  • Are eligible and registered for Sorenson VRS account
  • Use a Mac or PC

Please note: The Sorenson for Zoom Web app and Zoom app work for Zoom meetings only. They cannot be used for Zoom webinars. Learn about the difference between Zoom meetings and webinars.

Try Sorenson Solutions for Inclusive Zoom Meetings Using VRS

Sorenson for Zoom empowers Deaf and hearing individuals to have inclusive meetings for work, school, and more.

Learn more about Sorenson for Zoom. And, if you haven’t already, create a Sorenson Relay account